Over 600 species exist in the genus Salvia. The most common sage is culinary sage, Salvia officinalis, which is an ingredient in holiday turkey stuffings. Native Salvias occur in many parts of the United States and add to the allure of a wildflower garden, with their tall flower spikes that range in color from white to a nearly black purple. Hybrid varieties are often used in home landscapes and are readily available from nurseries.
Several Salvia species are used in recipes around the world. In addition to the common Salvia officinalis, some people favor a tri-color variety, a purple sage or a golden variety of culinary sage for their beauty and good taste. Salvia “Berggarten” is an attractive, large-leaved variety that has the same characteristics of the more common Salvia.
Hummingbird sage, or Salvia spathacea, is a red-flowering sage that grows wild in arid mountains of California. Other native Salvias include Clary sage, white sage, or Salvia apiana; Salvia brandegei, which comes from Santa Rosa Island off the southern California coast; Cleveland sage, or Salvia clevelandii, is from southern California and northern Mexico and has very fragrant foliage; Chia sage (Salvia columbariae) is known for “chia pets,” and has nutritious seeds. Wild Salvias also grow in Mexico, Central and South America and South Africa. One striking species with nearly black flowers, Salvia discolor, is native to Peru.
Many Salvia species originate in tropical regions. In Mexico and Central America, these sages are found: Salvia chiapensis, S. cacaliaefolia (ivy leaf sage), S. divinorum, S. involucrata (rose leaf sage), S. madrensis (forsythia sage) and S. regla (mountain sage). South Africa hosts Salvia africana lutea (golden or beach sage), S. repens, S. nilotica, S. radula and others. Salvias also occur in the Mediterranean area and North Africa. Some of these are Salvia dorisiana (peach sage), S. argentea, S. lanigera, S. sclarea and S. tingitana.
Some of the Salvias are believed to have medicinal properties. From the common culinary sage to the wild white sage (S. apiana), many varieties of Salvias have been used throughout history for their ability to strengthen the lungs and prevent coughs. Red sage, Salvia miltiorrhiza, is used in traditional Chinese medicine. Salvia divinorum, which is used by the Mazatec Indians of Mexico for vision quests, is believed to be useful in helping some people to overcome additions to narcotic drugs and nicotine. (The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has not substantiated these claims, though, so do not take salvia in any form before discussing it with your doctor first.)
Salvia splendens (pineapple sage) and Salvia “Victoria” are popular as bedding plants for home landscapes. Mexican bush sage, or Salvia leucantha, is a hardy, carefree shrub that has gained favor in natural landscapes in recent years.